Why do we play the same song on repeat, over and over?
Because they make us feel something.
Think about a special relationship you have in your life: how does it make you feel, in your body, right now?
“Interoception” is a still-poorly-known skill: the ability to sense or feel what is happening in your body.
I think of my friend Ross - his ready jokes, his smile and intelligence, how kind and forgiving and curious he is. I feel a subtle warmth in my jaw and chest when I think of our friendship. He makes me smile and laugh.
Yoga, meditation, tai chi and other mindfulness practices intend to hone your interoception - your ability to hear the subtle sensation-messages coming from your stomach (“gut instinct”), your legs, your shoulders and everywhere else in your body.
You may not be great at this skill yet, but we hear more and more about it these days, whether it’s a peak performance guru like Josh Waitzkin or an ex-CIA agent-turned-author. Experts at raising your game or protecting yourself from danger all write extensively on the importance of listening to your body’s sensations, to your gut instincts.
And interoception is critical to your college essay.
To grab an admissions committee’s attention, to compel them to want to know you, to have you in their school, your essay has to make readers feel something. You have to write about what makes you feel something.
Your essay has to show who you are, and often this means the vulnerable parts, the scary parts.
Neil Gaiman's books have sold over 10 million copies. As he puts it, the moment you feel in your writing that, “just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself...That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.”
Admissions officers are bored by the 10,000th essay they’ve read from a teenager trying to look like Mr. or Ms. Perfect. Those essays fall dead on the page.
By contrast, when you write about your vulnerable truths, about what they mean to you and what you've learned from them, you feel something in your body. Your heart palpitates. Your breath shortens. You may start to sweat.
When you show the courage and self-awareness to share something raw, to explain what it means to you and what you've learned from it, admissions committees WANT you. They can't put your essay down. They think of you the next day or week because you made them feel something unique. You made them feel you.
It could be about something big or small, positive or negative, love or heartbreak, sweet sorrow or joy - what matters is that it makes us feel something.
You’ll find that by listening to your body when you ask yourself what to write about.